DRILLING HOLES

By: Karen B.

Dedicated to Pooh Bear: Happy Birthday!

Summary: Time frame -- S-4. Hutch goes to the dentist to have his first tooth extracted, setting in motion a whole lot more than just an empty space in his mouth.

-- Hutch pov. H/C and major angst Hutch

Thank you to my dear beta reader, Shining Dawn. She pushes me hard, demanding more. My teacher, she does this in an encouraging way, and I thank her for helping me to grow a little more each time. Even though sometimes I do want to rip my hair out LOL…that's a good thing!

Any mistakes left are my own.

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The sound of jazz piped into the small room didn't drown out the grind of metal scraping against ivory.

The action hurt and I turned my head away

"Relax, Mr. Hutchinson, please don't move," the oral surgeon said calmly as he started to tug on my infected tooth.

Green eyes peered down at me. Was he smiling or sneering? I couldn't tell what was going on behind that mask he wore.

Resisting the urge to bolt from the chair, I tried to relax, but the wet sucking sound made me want to gag. There was a lot of pressure and crunching noises, followed by more grunts and groans coming from yours truly.

"Almost done. On three. One."

Crunch.

"Two."

Tug.

"Three."

"Okay, Mr. Hutchinson, you can sit up now," the dreaded dentist said, without removing his mask.

I felt dizzy and slowly sat up, spitting blood and shattered pieces of my infected tooth into the small basin to my left.

"Rest here a minute." The dentist turned his back, removing his mask. He tossed it in the trash and walked out of the room.

Today was my thirty-third birthday, and all I'd gotten was a Rock 'em Sock 'em Robot game, and one dead tooth. Thanks to a partner who sometimes viewed the world through the eyes of an eight-year-old, and the dentist's quick on the draw pliers.

This wasn't the happiest of birthdays. I didn't think mid-age crises hit until you were at least forty. Thirty should have been the milestone birthday, but the last two had passed by without much thought. The sun came up. The sun went down. Just like any other day in my life. But this year. Year number thirty-three felt different.

Starsky had told me turning thirty-three wasn't the end of the world. Okay, so maybe it wasn't the end of the world, but it sure felt like the end of something.

For the past month I'd been feeling really rough. Sleepless nights. Bad dreams. My car broke down - permanently. Thoughts of quitting this cop's life. And now this. The first tooth I had ever had to have pulled out. On of all days, my birthday.

I felt really old and really sad, looking at my dead tooth lying on the metal tray. I closed my eyes and touched the side of my cheek, trying to ignore how puffy the left side of my face felt, and listening to the jazz music still playing softly overhead.

"How you feeling, partner?" Starsky's loud voice jerked me upright.

"Be doing wonderful," I grumbled around a mouthful of cotton. "Except for the shooting and stabbing pains in my eardrums."

"Didn't the dentist give you Novocaine?"

"Starsky, I never had so much as a cavity, let alone a tooth pulled. I think I'm immune to the stuff." I took a breath. "It hurts."

"Sorry," Starsky said, lowering his voice. "You want an aspirin? Shot of whiskey?"

"I want my tooth back." I stared longingly at my tooth.

"You want to bury it?" Starsky smiled.

"No, Gordo. I don't want to bury it. Just get me home. Feeling woozy."

"That's normal. Don't feel so bad, buddy…" Starsky began as he took me by the arm and helped me to my feet. "Everyone loses a tooth sooner or later." Starsky reached out a hand and touched the side of my cheek.

"Ahhh! Don't touch there!"

"Shhh! Be a good boy and you'll get a sucker on your way out."

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Three days later…

Starsky guided the Torino through the city streets while I trained my eyes on the passing scenery. Desperate to ignore the pain building behind my eyes, I shivered. It could be ninety degrees here in the city, but sometimes all I felt was cold.

Pressing back further in my seat, I let my foul mood take over, thinking about the several hundred square blocks of steal, glass, and stone Starsky and I patrolled five days a week.

Bay City could be a lonely, closed in place. Shootings, drug overdoses, rapes, muggings, homeless old men. Throw in a few murders for good measure, and you had yourself a real junkyard of humanity.

Starsky and I spend more time playing hero then we do playing -- period. I bit back a sigh. Sometimes, most times, I missed the green, green grass of home. The false security of white picket fences. Old men sitting in rocking chairs digging in their tobacco bags for something to chew on, instead of digging in trash cans for their next meal. Fourteen-year-old girls skipping rope, not skipping school. Here, junkies and dealers walked the streets like zombies in one of Starsky's late night creature features. Only difference was, these zombies were worse than the ones Starsky liked to watch. They sucked the sunshine out of the sky, pushing dope, carrying guns and knives, knowing exactly how to use them with deadly accuracy, and draining a heroes blood.

Starsky and I sat in the middle of it all, trying to drill holes through the piles of wreckage and let the sunshine back in. Sometimes I felt like Starsky and I were drilling those holes with a jackhammer made out of butter.

Boy, this getting older stuff had really put me in a mood, but whining and fidgeting were not my style. I sat stiff and stoic in the passenger seat of the Torino, completely regretting coming into work today. I'd woke up on the wrong side of the world with a terrible headache. Pounding down three cups of coffee, and four aspirin hadn't even put a dent in the raw pain. The throbbing in my head had only gotten worse, morphing into sharp shooting jabs causing the whole right side of my face, jaw, ear, and neck to hurt. I could hardly chew anything on that side. The empty socket hurt worse than the damn tooth had.

I was starving, but had to eliminate any chewing from my diet. I raised my hand, sucking my goat's milk through a straw, and tried not to stick my tongue in the empty socket.

The area was swollen and very sensitive. My tooth, or lack of a tooth was killing me. Anytime I opened my mouth to talk or take a drink, it felt like a massive glacial shift was going on in there. I didn't dare call the dreaded dentist. He might want to extract a few more of my precious teeth. I could only handle mourning one incisor at a time. Besides, I was told the discomfort was all a normal part of loosing a tooth. The discomfort of turning thirty three, loosing youth, that was another kind of discomfort all its own.

I never took the loss of anything very well. The outcome was always the same, leaving me stuck somewhere between hell and fire.

A parade of losses ran through my mind.

One of the biggest was losing Van. I recalled mourning her loss. It took me a long time to take my wedding ring off. I felt naked without the band, constantly

brushing a finger over the spot where gold once circled skin.

I poked my tongue around in the large empty pit where my tooth once was, shaking off the dark parade in my head. I should have been concentrating on the grimy landscape lurking outside the Torino's windows.

I went back to sucking on my straw. Winos lolled in doorways. A jungle of predators and prey moving along the sidewalk just another day of trying to survive. I saw Kahuna. A wild, white-haired, soft bearded, old man who proclaimed himself God or Moses -- depending on the day of the week and the alignment of the moon.

Today, he looked like Moses, with a long white sheet wrapped around himself and tied off with a corded brown rope. He leaned heavily on his wooden staff, holding a tablet. He was talking to a young girl. Probably preaching the Ten Commandments to the local teenage prostitute, who obviously wasn't interested in the homeless man's sermon on the mount.

Starsky and I would see him from time to time, aimlessly wheeling an old steel hotdog cart, now painted red and yellow, and heavily decorated with expired license plates, hubcaps, bottle caps, and prayers. The poor guy canvassed the city day in and day out searching for potential souls to save.

I forced a smile. Guess Starsky and I weren't the only ones drilling holes.

"What's going on…" Starsky interrupted my misery.

"Kahuna, trying to save another soul."

"No, I mean you're awful quiet. What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," I said, drawing my tongue out of the empty socket, and hiding the wince that threatened to buckle my style. "Why does something have to be wrong just because I don't feel like talking?"

Starsky didn't answer, and I turned in his direction, watching him watching me.

"Think you should go back to the dentist, Hutch. You're still in a lot of pain," Starsky said, swerving over the double yellow, causing the driver of a huge bus to lay on his horn. "Shit!" Starsky steered back into his lane.

"I think you should keep your eyes on the road there, Mario," I chided.

"I think you're afraid Playboy won't want you for their centerfold anymore," Starsky retaliated.

"Starsky, what are you talking about?"

"What I'm talking about is that turning thirty-three isn't so bad, Hutch."

"Turning twenty-three was better."

"Blondie, you need a few lessons in charm, is all," Starsky said, a smug grin spreading across his face. "You're not exactly Prince Charming these days. Any lady kissing you will have you turning into a toad."

"Frog," I corrected.

"What?"

"It's a frog that gets kissed, Starsky. Not a toad."

"If you kiss me, I'll turn into the next Mexican Restaurant I see," Starsky laughed. "Badda boom."

I shook my head. I'd no sooner decided to end this no-win conversation, when an all units call came in.

"A 2-11 in progress. Stan's liquor store. 678 Northdale.

"That's right around the block." Starsky reached for the mike. "Zebra Three. We are responding." He glanced my way. "Ready, frog boy?"

"Funny." Automatically reaching for the mars light, I slapped it on the hood.

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The Torino screeched around the corner onto Northdale, backup a good ten to fifteen minutes out. Starsky pulled up behind the blue pickup truck double-parked outside the liquor store

"What you think?" Starsky put the Torino in park

"Getaway car?" I said, pushing open my door.

I could hear shouting inside the store and before I could pull my gun, shots were fired and two masked men went running from the building only five feet from us.

I was aware of Starsky grabbing the mike to put an A.P.B. on our suspects while I took off down the street after the two masked men.

It wasn't long before I heard Starsky's pounding footsteps. I could see his shadow looming on the wall of the Woolworths Dime store we'd just passed, and knew that he was right at my back. "Backup's on the way," he huffed, out of breath.

We were several yards behind the perps, coming up on the intersection of Fifth and Channler. These guys weren't amateurs, I thought, as they split up. One went down Fifth. The other one went up Channler. Now, Starsky and I would have to do the same. Splitting up always made me nervous.

"Right!" Starsky informed.

I nodded my consent. "Don't play hero!" I yelled, veering left.

"Chicks dig heroes!" Starsky shot over his shoulder, then was gone.

"I'm not a chick," I panted, running down the one-way alley behind Russo's Italian Bistro.

I slowed my all out run down to a jog, then a cautious walk. The alley was dark and quiet, and appeared to be empty. All except for a large, rusted dumpster, my own shadow, a sooty, white cat on the prowl, and way up high on a clothesline - lady's lingerie drying in the breeze.

Was this guy some sort of ghost? I couldn't figure out where'd he'd gotten to.

My heart was beating too fast and I willed the muscle to slow. Moving further in, I heard something rummaging around inside the grimy dumpster.

This guy wasn't very smart. I pulled my gun from my holster, and said, "Police officer. Come out of there now!"

"How stupid do you think I am?" A cocky voice ghosted up from behind.

I whirled around. The motion made me woozy, but I managed to target my attacker. One of the guys from the robbery, a burly man with a long crop of black hair poking out from under the ski-mask he wore.

"Police!" I yelled, trading off my dizziness for shock. Staring me down was a near identical .357 aimed right at my chest. I steadied my gun hand. "Drop your weapon," I ordered.

"Not a chance, pig!"

Even behind his mask, I could see this guy's sinister grin light up his eyes, and watched his mind click. He was going to shoot me. For an impossibly long second, we stood face to face in some sort of moronic game of chicken.

The perp's finger twitched, but before I could pull off a shot, there came a high- pitched squealing. Glancing over the perp's shoulder I caught sight of a red and yellow blur that was the heavily Bible-loaded cart wheeled by Kahuna. He drove straight into the suspect, sending the masked man to the ground, but the momentum of the cart didn't stop -- heading straight for me.

"Whoa!" I yelled. There was nowhere to go but up, and in.

I turned, my fingers scrambling at the lip of the dumpster. Pulling myself up, I flipped over the edge just as the cart slammed into metal, shaking the container like a giant tin cup. I crash-landed flat on my back, my head smacking against something hard.

Dazed and staring upward, I sniffed the air, shivering in disgust. The stench filled my nostrils, and I got a good whiff of rigatoni, meatballs, tomato, clam sauce, and cat piss. The combined smell was a lot like a rotting three-day-old floater.

"Ugh!" I retched and spat.

Kahuna peered over the side and looked down at me. "I am so sorry." He tapped his cane on the lip of the dumpster.

"W-where's the bad g-guy?" I spit a slimy piece of angel hair pasta from my mouth.

"Out cold," Kahuna said.

"Rats," I mumbled, hearing small scrabbling sounds in the trash below me.

I thrashed around in the used vegetables, half-chewed bread, and empty wine and beer bottles. Wanting to get the hell out of this thing, I reached for my cuffs and tried to stand but my legs were like liquid rubber. I couldn't find a purchase in the refuse. I stumbled backward, hitting the back wall of the garbage bin. Slowly, I slid down to my butt. Everything turned fuzzy black, and for a moment, all I heard was my own intake of breath.

Forgetting the rat, I closed my eyes, feeling a sick, twisted thing growing in my gut.

Through the fuzzy black shroud, I heard Starsky's fast moving feet. Tennis shoes skidded along the pavement. "Hey." His voice tough, yet scared. "Drop the cane and back away now!"

"Starsk, it's okay." I swallowed down the urge to vomit. "He saved my l-life." I cringed, hearing my stuttering voice boom off the metal sides of my prison.

"Thanks, Moses," Starsky said.

"Why are you calling me Moses?" Kahuna said indignantly. "My name is Emmanuel."

I gave a half-hearted chuckle, staying still, and listened to the squeal of wheels as Kahuna rolled away the cart that saved my life.

I didn't move, couldn't. I just sat there listening to Starsky reading the Miranda rights to the robbery suspect.

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can, and will, be used against you in a court of law. You have…"

"Ow! Ow! Those cuffs are too tight." I recognized the voice of the masked man who tried to put a bullet in me. "I have my rights," he bellowed.

"And I'm reading them to you!" Starsky growled. "The right to have an attorney present during questioning...Hutch!"

"I'm comfy," I lied.

"If you cannot afford an attorney..." Starsky continued. "One will be appointed to you."

"Ow! Get your knee out of my back!" the man yelled.

"Do you understand these rights, scum?"

"Yes! Damn it! Yes!"

I wanted to stand up, but that thing twisting in my gut wouldn't allow me to move. All I could do was lick the blood off what my split lip, and keep my eyes closed. I stifled a moan, clutching a fist full of garbage in my left hand, my gun, surprisingly, still clutched in my right.

"Sit there and don't say a word, scum!" I heard a body being dragged across pavement and handcuffs being secured to hollow metal. "Hey, partner. What are you doing down there?" Starsky's voice radiated tension.

"Making lasagna." I refused to open my eyes and squeezed them shut tighter.

"What a way to not play hero," Starsky said softly in mock anger. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Sure," I hissed. "What about the other guy?"

"Got away," Starsky grumbled as the container shimmied and shook.

"If you're okay…" Starsky plopped down next to me. "Why don't you look at me?"

I obediently blinked my eyes open, seeing Starsky's worried face bent over me. Double vision made me quickly shut them again.

"Hutch?"

"You know, you're cute when you're scared." I tried for a smile.

Starsky was silent for a moment, gentle fingers threading through my hair at the back of my head.

"Sssss," I gritted my teeth when Starsky pressed something against my head. "What is that?" I got no answer, only more blotting. Feeling Starsky's tension, I opened my eyes all the way. "What's wrong?"

"You burnt the lasagna." He gave a nervous chuckle.

"Good. Hate lasagna anyway," I groaned. Starsky exchanged his blotting for constant pressure on the spot. "What's back there?" I let go of the garbage in my left hand, reaching around to feel the area.

"Don't!" Starsky batted my hand away. "You got a nasty cut." He came clean. "Think you need stitches."

"Hurts like a son of a..." I stopped, unable to stress strongly enough how much agony I was really in.

Ignoring the empty socket in my mouth, I concentrated on the new pain at the back of my head. The fissure must be widening because my previous headache took on the form of a migraine. The knock on my head spun my thoughts around. It felt like a stick of dynamite exploding in my skull. I knew I needed a doctor, but no way was I waiting around in this rotting rattrap for an ambulance.

"Be right back, Hutch." Starsky started to stand.

"What am I supposed to do?" I growled. "Sit here all day?" I grabbed hold of Starsky's arm, trying to yank myself up, but dizziness rocked me back down.

"Hutch! I gotta call for an ambulance."

"What kind of friend leaves another friend in the dumps?"

"The lousy kind." Starsky shrugged his apologies "Hutch, look, just wait…"

"Starsk, just. Could you…" I paused, licking another dribble of blood off my lower lip. "I'm having trouble standing. Could you…"

"Help you up?"

"Let's go with that," I agreed weakly.

"Come on, you big Lummox." Starsky grabbed a handful of my jacket, and hauled me to my feet.

"Argh!" I finally opened my eyes again and pinched the end of my nose. I reeked of Alfredo, rotting anchovies, and cat piss, all flavored with a ton of garlic. "Oh, man, these clothes will never come clean."

"You call that stuff you wear clothes?" Starsky laughed.

"Starsky. " I was hurting and not in the mood for his jokes. "I just dove into a dumpster."

"I noticed."

"Just get me out of this garbage can."

"Yes, dear," he said sharply.

Starsky climbed out, piled some crates below the dumpster and gently guided me over the lip of the dumpster, holding my arm to keep me steady.

"Starsk, remind me never to eat here, their sauce tastes like cat…"

My foot slipped on the last crate and I stumbled forward.

"Hey, hey, hey." Starsky gripped my arm tighter. "Your head hurt that bad?"

"Not as much as the right side of my face." I rubbed my chin, swaying on my feet.

"Relax, toothless. Take a breath," Starsky soothed.

"I should never have let that damn dentist pull my tooth. My tooth is gone and I'm in more pain then I was before."

"You can't hide from the dentist forever, Hutch."

"What the hell!" Our masked bandit yelled, rattling his cuffs. "You pigs can't just leave me here!" His voice felt like a hot angry red blaze on my back. "I'll file charges."

"Smith and Jones," Starsky called bitterly over his shoulder. "Make sure you get our names spelled right. Can you believe that guy."

"Starsk." I paused to look into his eyes. What I needed to tell him this was about more than just a toothache and getting older. "I --"

"Later, Hutch. Let's just get you home."

A cruiser pulled up, just as we got to the end of the alley. "The masked avenger is cuffed to the pipe," Starsky said to the two uniforms exiting the black and white. "Here's my keys."

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I woke up trembling, and sweaty cold. This was the ninth time this month I'd had the same damn dream.

"Uhhhh." I wiped cold drops of sweat off my lips and focused on the nightstand clock.

"Five o'clock in the morning," I groaned, clutching at the sheets tangled around my thighs. "Uhhhhhh." I shivered, dragging the linens up to my neck.

I stared at the ceiling, saddled with the constant pain in my jaw, ears, and head. Saddled with thoughts of receding hair lines, dentures, and the same bad dream that kept threatening to bring me to the very edges of my sanity.

I used to dream a lot when I was younger. All good dreams. My dreams were not so good anymore. This past month, especially.

Tonight's nightmare was a frequent repeat. Always very short, and I couldn't control the images. A bloody body lying on the pavement. Chest ripped apart by gunfire. I didn't know what the dream meant or who the person was. Or why I kept dreaming the same dream.

All I knew was that I'd wake up in a cold sweat. Trembling, terrified, and wishing I was anything but a cop. Wishing I was out of Bay City. Doing something simple, like fishing. Being someplace calm and quiet. Some place where the bad in this world couldn't touch me or my partner any more. A dream of peace and tranquility.

When I was in college I took a class in lucid dreaming. The professor even ran a few experiments on the subject, trying to prove that lucid dreams could heal the body and mind. I discovered that the technique worked for me. When I was fully aware of what I was dreaming and got control of the images, I felt calmer and healthier.

It'd been years, but maybe I should give that a go. At least, I'd get a few hours sleep.

My chosen lucid dream was always the same, and one of the few things I could control in my life. It was one of the few ways I could escape the confines of Bay City.

To recognize that I was dreaming, I had to have a trigger. Fishing was that trigger. I always recognized when I was dreaming, because the dream always took place at the lake my Grandfather used to take me too.

I closed my eyes, exhausted and felt myself grow heavy. I felt like I was shrinking into the realm of sleep as if a rag of chloroform was pressed over my nose.

I entered the cool water, wearing knee-high black rubber wadding boots on my feet, a thick red and black plaid jacket and my grandfather's feathered lucky hat on my head. I was holding the 'Excalibur' of fishing rods in my hands. I could smell the colored Autumn leaves drying out and watched them float lazily from brittle tree branches. One last blow of the wind would sweep them away for the season.

On the verge of waking up, I forced myself to stay in the moment. The sky was white and gray, the chilly wind churning the lake water. The ebb and flow of the waves stirred the lake bottom, making the water turn murky gray which matched the sky. This was my favorite spot on the lake. Sometimes I fished here alone. Sometimes with my grandfather. Since this was my dream, and I held all the power, I decided to let Starsky in on the fun.

"Come on in, Starsk." I glanced over my shoulder at my partner sitting on top the large red and white cooler he'd brought along.

"Not going in there," my chowhound partner mumbled around the last of the pastrami and mustard sandwich he'd stuffed in his mouth.

"The water's just fine," I soothed.

"Say's you, Hutch. Who knows what's lurking under these waters. You go ahead and catch Moby Dick. I'll just sit here and guard the cooler."

"Starsky, believe it or not, you won't catch a Sperm Whale in Lake Superior," I laughed, wadding further into cool water to cast my line.

I took a breath, and relaxed. I could play hero safely here. Catch dinner, and fry it in a pan. That was a welcome change from all the times Starsky and I ended up being the ones getting caught and fried by the bad guys out on the streets.

My bad dream of the bloody body lying on the pavement tried to creep into the picture but I wasn't about to let that happen. I shook my head violently enough to send my brain sailing out my ears to keep from having that dream again.

My fishing rod suddenly arched.

"Starsky!" I yelled excitedly. "I got a strike."

"Terrific," Starsky grumbled. "Because my stomach is about to go on strike."

"He's a big one!" I hollered, working the line until I dragged the fish ashore. "Gotta be a thirty-five pounder." I drew the Walleye up off the sandy shore, showing Starsky my catch with pride.

"Hutch, there's no such thing as a thirty -five pound walleye. The biggest one ever caught only weighted twenty two…"

"Shut-up, dummy. It's my dream."

Starsky did as I said. He shut-up and, instead celebrated my catch with whoops, hollers, and high fives.

"Hutch, when are we going to cook…"

The ground creaked, a door slammed, and my eyes fluttered opened. I sensed the change. I had been propelled out of my dream by a presence.

The presence flipped up my bedroom shade. Daylight raced through the windowglass and dilated my pupils. Immediately, I rolled away going flat on my back to lying on my left side.

"Ooooooo." I scrunched my eyes shut, and tried to recover what I had lost -- but my dream was gone.

"Rise and shine..." I felt the mattress dip, and felt eyes on me. "Hutch." Starsky's voice registered. My thick as taffy brain remembering that he'd crashed on my couch last night. "Hey, buddy." My partner's warm hand came to rest on my shoulder.

Refusing to open my eyes, I didn't answer or move. I didn't want to think about anything beyond my dream.

"Can you wake up for me?"

'No,' I mouthed, eyes still tightly shut.

"Hutch," Starsky whispered. "Wake up." He nudged me gently.

It took whispering my name two times and three more nudges before I stirred.

"You awake, Hutch?"

I shook my head, cringing when my stomach made a sickening gurgle.

"You know you don't have to whisper," I said in a regular tone of voice. "I'm awake."

My entire mouth hurt and tasted like I'd swallowed that dumpster I'd fallen into yesterday. Not to mention the sticks of dynamite going off in between my ears.

"Come on, Hutch. You have an appointment to keep."

"What appointment?" I reached for the extra pillow next to me and tried to stuff it in my ear. "Hmm," I mumbled my agony. "Go away."

"What can I get you?" Starsky's weight left the bed.

"A new life." Trying to stuff the pillow in my ear wasn't working out so well. I let the cushion drop to the floor and rubbed my sore jaw, the day-old grizzly hair prickling my hand.

"What? A cop's life ain't short enough for you?" Starsky chuckled.

There was a long silence.

I stared at the back of my eyelids, wishing to stay in total darkness so that I could return to my good dream. However, the swollen lump on the back of my head hurt badly. The ER doctor had put fifteen stitches into the wound and told me to stay out of dumpsters. Funny guy.

Slowly, I rolled onto my right side, pressing my cheek into the pillow. I moaned again, feeling like a two-ton gorilla had sucker punched me in the jaw.

"How you feelin'?" Starsky asked.

"Horrible."

"Come on, Hutch get up. You can shower first."

"Your turn…" I blindly rolled onto my back. "To go first," I answered, finally opening my eyes.

Through gritty sleep, I barely made out the image of my best friend rummaging around in my top dresser drawer. "Hurts to just lay in bed." I squirmed.

"Yeah. A knock in the head will do that to you." Starsky continued to rummage around in my dresser drawers.

"What time?" I grunted past my dry throat.

"Six thirty in the morning." Starsky shoved one dresser drawer shut before opening another and digging around.

Unable to get comfortable, I raised my pillow behind me and slowly scooted to sit up. "What are you doing?" I asked.

"Do you ever do laundry, Hutchinson?" Starsky turned to me. "Where's all your clean shorts?"

"Around."

Starsky crouched down, eyes intent, like he was searching for the tiniest thread of hair or drop of blood.

"Under the bed?" Inquiring blue eyes stared at me with contempt. "Hutch! Does your mother know what a pig you are? How can you…"

"Starsky!" I snapped. "It's my underwear, and I'll keep it where I want to." I eased out of bed and headed for the john. '"I'm taking a shower."

"Good. You'll be just in time for breakfast, and then the funeral."

"What!" I spun around, my heart pounding hard in my chest. "Who died?"

"Not who, Hutch. What." Like an ace up his sleeve, Starsky produced a small ring-sized box and shook. The contents rattled from side to side.

"What the…"

"It's what's left of your tooth, Hutch. I figured you're too old to believe in the Tooth Fairy, and you seemed so upset about loosing a fang. Figured we could have a little ceremony, bury the tooth in that giant potted Fig tree out in the greenhouse."

"Starsky!" I rolled my eyes. "You're insane."

"Only temporarily," Starsky laughed, stuffing the box back in his front jeans pocket. "One more thing," Starsky said. "I made you a dentist appointment for eight thirty this morning."

"The dentist!" I shot out.

That meant more pain, more Novocain that didn't work, more crunching noises, and more blood.

"Yes, the dentist. He's going to pack your alveolar osteitis."

"What?" I backed up a few steps.

"Alveolar osteitis. Dry socket, Hutch."

"I know what dry socket is, Starsky," I scolded. "What made you do a thing like that for?"

"In case you don't remember, Blondie -- due to that knock you took to the head, the doctor in the ER said your lymph nodes in your jaw are swollen," Starsky explained. "The dry socket is what's causing your headaches, ear and neck pain -- your bad mood." Starsky paused to make eye contact, deep blue pools full of compassion and concern. "You know you should have never been drinking milk from a straw. The dentist gave you that care sheet. Didn't you read the instructions, Hutch? Sucking through a straw is a no no," Starsky declared in a fatherly tone.

I opened my mouth to tell Starsky where the dentist and his straw sucking instruction sheet could go. Where this job could go. Where I wanted to go -- but nothing came out.

"Blondie, I promise. Everything will be okay," Starsky said gently as if he'd read my mind. "Packing the empty hole in your head will fix you right up."

"What about the empty hole in my heart?" I mumbled.

"Huh?"

"Nothing." I smiled, hoping to wash away Starsky's worried look. "Going to take a shower, partner. Have coffee ready for me when I get out? Please?"

"Coffee and a good breakfast," Starsky chimed.

"What's a good breakfast?" I grumbled suspiciously.

"Dis' 'n dat," Starsky replied.

"Sounds awful." I winked, closing the bathroom door behind me.

**********************************

Stepping carefully out of the shower, I moved over to the sink and steadied myself against the counter. I didn't bother to reach for a towel. Just let the droplets of cooling water roll off me to form tiny puddles on the floor.

I wiped the fog off the mirror, leaned in closer, and stared into a pair of pale blues eyes that took on the appearance of polished glass. I knew what was wrong with me. I was suffering from burnout. Years of swimming in black waters had taught me that there was frequently a shark circling, sensing blood. It was easy to let myself believe that there was only bad in the world, that everything rotten, nasty and vile ended up here in Bay City. Starsky was the only person who seemed to be able to help fill this empty hole of mine with his friendship.

"You're some piece of work, Hutchinson."

I shook my head looking intently at my reflection. I wondered sometimes -- what if I was the reflection? A reflection of a man I thought I once knew, but now wasn't so sure of.

Opening the medicine cabinet, I pulled out my shaving cream and razor.

Turning on the hot water faucet, I wet my face and lathered up ignoring the pain that action caused. I thought about my good dream. I wished for long days of nothing more to do then wait for that big scaly fish to come along. Starsky and I fished everyday out on the streets. Always waiting for that big bust to come along. I laughed to myself. Even in my lucid dream the job somehow followed. At least fishing with rod and reel was fairly safe.

I brought the bare straight-blade up to my chin, carefully scrapping the razor across the layer of foam. I was especially careful when I got to the swollen side of my face. Each stroke smoothly caught whisker after whisker so close I could almost hear the single hair pop off.

I guided the blade over my Adam's apple more slowly than usual because my hand was shaking and I didn't want to cut my throat. Boy, wasn't that ironic. Out on the streets, if we got through the day without getting our throats cut we were lucky. When Starsky and I did get lucky, like we had yesterday, -- we'd usually celebrate with a couple of beers, and some shuteye. The next day we'd pin on our badges, holster our guns, and hit the streets all over again. I wondered if we were making a difference at all. Last night I'd just gone to bed sick, hurt, and exhausted.

Rinsing my razor, I splashed some cool water on my face. Checking my skin for any nicks, I snatched a nearby hand towel and patted my skin dry. I marveled at how a close barbershop shave could make me feel a little better, less shaky, and maybe even look a day or two younger.

The perfect shave held three ingredients. A sharp blade, top of the line English shaving cream, and a steady hand. Placing my morning tools back in the medicine cabinet, I thought about what were the makings of the perfect cop's life? A sharp top of the line partner? That I had. But my hands. My hands weren't so steady anymore. Out on the streets, that could get a guy or his partner killed.

How much more stress and loss could I -- make that -- our partnership handle? Sooner or later, Starsky and I would both get so cut up on the inside that the scars would start to show on the outside.

***************************************************

Trudging tiredly out to the kitchen, I approached the breakfast table. Starsky had gone all out. The table was neatly set with two plates, two mugs of freshly poured coffee, butter, salt and pepper shakers, forks, knives, spoons, and even two napkins. All neatly placed on top of the green checkered tablecloth he must have dug out of the closet. I sat down, staring at a large bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's maple syrup that was standing next to a tall stack of pancakes.

"You expecting a small army to walk through the door, Starsk?"

"Dig in, Hutch." Starsky glanced over his shoulder with a prideful smirk on his face. "Almost done cutting up this melon." My happy partner sun under his breath, going back to wielding his knife.

I ran a shaky hand through my damp hair. Everything looked tempting. I really wished I could devour my partner's thoughtfulness. My stomach twitched a few times, but that was the extent of my desire. Instead of digging into the food, I reached for the mug of coffee. In my wiped-out condition, I just couldn't take a bite. My mouth hurt. My head. My jaw. My soul.

"Here you go." Starsky set the bowl of cut up melon in front of me. "Hutch, eat." He frowned.

"Starsk." I clenched and unclenched my hold around the cup. "I'm just not hungry." Mrs. Buttersworth glared angrily at me. Starsky had gone through a lot of trouble just for me. "I'm sorry," I said quietly.

"Don't be." Starsky sat down, his pride he'd had in preparing the feast vanishing.

We sat without speaking for a while. Starsky dug into the stack of pancakes, and snatched Mrs. Butterworth's accusing gaze away from me.

I leaned back in my chair, sipping my coffee and trying to hide the black vortex of pain, both emotional and physical, that was spinning my head out of control. How could I tell my partner for the past five months, I'd been plotting a way to escape this life?

I lay awake at night, bouncing ideas off the ceiling for hours. It didn't matter what ideas fell back down at me, there was no way I could follow them through. I couldn't quit. Couldn't leave Starsky alone on the streets. I'd never trust anyone to watch his back the way I did. How could I tell Starsky this city, this cop's life had sucked all the sunshine from my blue sky? Turning everything gray, even in my fishing dream where the sky had once always blue, and was now always gray. I didn't have a handle on who I am anymore. All the people we've lost. Murdered kids, cops, lovers. All the dead end cases, the huge chasm between Starsky and myself. A chasm I don't think he was even aware of. What was I thinking? What was I doing? What…

"What's going on with you, Hutch?" Starsky broke into my thoughts.

I played with my coffee cup, pretending I didn't hear the question.

"Hutch."

"Nothing."

"Something."

"Buddy," Starsky said softly. "You think I don't know what this job does to us day in and day out? I know you're not sleeping good. Having nightmares."

My spine went rigid, my eyes snapping up to meet his.

"What nightmares?" I feigned innocence. How the hell could he so easily read the inner workings of my mind. "I don't have…"

"I hear you," Starsky jumped in. "On the nights I'm to beat to drive home and crash on your couch. Crying out in your sleep. I see what this crazy life is doing to you. We don't have to keep being the fearless heroes, guns blazing, charging in to save the day. You can talk to me, Hutch." Starsky paused. "If this isn't where you want to be…you know… I'm with you. Whatever you want. You won't be letting me down."

I wanted to tell him, there wasn't a time I could remember that he ever let me down. It was me who was letting him down. Me, who'd taken a wrong turn. I wanted to tell Starsky it was my wings pinned to a corkboard, but this was my dead end -- not his.

Instead, I said, "I just can't talk about it right now." I somberly set my coffee cup down.

Starsky stared inquiringly at me for about ten seconds, then said, "Okay, partner."

Nodding, he went back to stuffing a forkful of syrup covered pancakes into his mouth. He'd said what he had to say, and would wait for me to volley back when I was ready.

I finished my coffee while Starsky finished the stack of pancakes. I had to smile. Did the guy have a hollow leg?

Pushing back on my chair, I stood, cleared a few dishes off the table, and began doing filling the sink with water.

"Hutch." A light touch came to my back. "Leave those. You have a dentist appointment," Starsky reminded.

"Ughhhhh," I groaned, his words registering like a sledgehammer pounding a two-inch spike into my jaw.

I looked around the room, searching for any other option, hoping I could stall for time. Even though I was in pain, heading back to that hot-seat wasn't my first choice.

"There is no other option, Hutch." Starsky gave me a withering stare.

"I never said…"

"You were thinking it," Starsky chastised. "Let's get going. Or we're going to be late. You don't think I'm going to let you sit here in pain one day longer…do you?"

I looked past Starsky at the telephone, and as if by magic the damn thing rang.

Starsky gave me an evil look.

"What?" I shrugged.

"This doesn't get you off the hook, Hutchinson." Starsky glided over to the telephone, answering it on the second ring.

Hitching a breath, I leaned against the counter, massaging the back of my neck. The pain exploding in my head and jaw was deafening. Starsky was right. I couldn't put the dreaded dentist off any longer. I closed my eyes, taking in several deep breaths.

"Hutch." Starsky's fingers snapping brought my eyes open. "That was Dobey. Another dance hall girl's body washed up on the beach. Same M.O. He wants us in his office. He's sending us in undercover." Sad blue eyes scrutinized me.

"Let's get going," I said, a sigh of something I couldn't quit call relief escaped me.

"You're in check, Hutch. Not checkmate. Dentist first, then work."

"Ugh." I winced, my relief smashed like a hammer to my thumb.

Starsky gave me a concerned look, then turned to get his keys.

I scrubbed my face and swallowed. My mouth tasted like a tennis shoe.

"Come on toothless?" Starsky shrugged into his holster. "You ready?" Starsky held the front door open, waiting for me.

My heartbeat was slamming into my knees, threatening to drag me down. I wanted to tell Starsky no. Tell him that he deserved better. Deserved a partner who could do the job. I wanted to tell him, I couldn't take the loss. The empty holes were killing me -- killing us. I had to find a way to end these feelings.

"Yeah. I'm ready," I lied, feeling like my reflection, and wondering whose legs were moving.

Starsky gave my back a light thump. It was a small, quiet, gesture that spoke its meaning loudly.

Maybe I was trapped in Bay City. Maybe I was trapped behind the iron bars of this cop's life. But with Starsky as my cellmate, watching my back, I could go back to drilling holes.

The end